Monday, December 28, 2015

4 Beginner Indian recipes

Scrumptious, simple-enough dishes to make at home


After lots of meat and potatoes and ham and rolls at Christmastime, I find myself craving spicy, exotic deliciousness. Anyone else? Cue the Indian food! Here are four recipes to try — and believe me, if I can make 'em so can you.

While veggie korma works as a side, this all-veggie concoction can easily stand on its own as a main dish. So hearty and flavorful! 



I made this for Adam's birthday dinner last year and he loved it. I'll be honest: I don't love it as much as the next two chicken dishes, but it's still totally worthwhile to have in your Indian recipe arsenal. 



Speaking of birthday dinners, Curried Coconut Chicken is what my mom requests every year for hers. This one is so delicious, especially when served with basmati rice cooked in creamy coconut milk. 



Call me typical, but Chicken Tikka Masala is my favorite. And in my humble opinion, this recipe is every bit as delish as what you'll find in a restaurant and really isn't that difficult. So get cookin'!




Mad Rooster Café

An awesome brunch near Miller Park


Tis the season for out-of-town friends coming home to MKE and demanding delicious brunch — AKA the most wonderful time of the year! We didn't want to go to the local Greek breakfast place and we didn't want to venture all the way over to Milwaukee's east or south side. Enter Mad Rooster on Greenfield and Miller Parkway. 



I've been hearing great things about Mad Rooster for a while. It's a big place — a giant red barn in the Target parking lot near Miller Park. While a strip mall isn't my idea of atmospheric brunching, it's plenty fun once you get inside. Plus they can accommodate bigger groups. There was a wait when we arrived, but it went fast. And they offer coffee while you wait — an awesome perk! 



The menu was totally overwhelming, in the best way. There's a lot of deliciousness to wade through, and if you're indecisive... Good luck! My friends ordered Bloody Marys, complete with beer chasers, and their joy was palpable. For food, we indulged in breakfast burritos, veggie-and-egg skillets, huevos rancheros, and breakfast tacos — all insanely yummy (I'll be going for the tacos next time). 



One more thing: While we were waiting for our food, I spied a plate of fresh fruit in a half-pineapple boat topped with cream. I'll say it again: pineapple fruit boat. My friends and I shared incredulous laughter at the cartoonish sight and knew we'd made the right choice in brunch spot. The place is also loud enough for friends to talk over each other and not annoy those seated nearby. And it's baby-friendly. So next time you need brunch, run don't walk to Mad Rooster. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas in NYC: Dining out

3 restaurants to (maybe) try


There are so many restaurants in New York it's impossible for me to unequivocally tout these three as the best, most worthwhile, or most convenient spots to dine — but I can only speak from experience. And these, each in their own way, certainly were an experience. 

#1 Alice's Tea Cup
Oh to be a little girl growing up in NYC and having mother-daughter dates to Alice's Tea Cup. If I day dream about it much longer my heart's gonna explode, so let me just say that this place is wonderful and magical and girly. We went to the location closest to Lincoln Center before seeing The Nutcracker. Could there be a more precious outing than tea and The New York City Ballet? Sorry not sorry!



My friends tell me that this location isn't even the most darling and whimsical of them all, and I still found it entirely charming. The three of us ordered the Mad Hatter for three, which was more than enough food and drink: a plate of scones (buttermilk for the win!), tea sandwiches, cookies, and dessert of your choice. I've died and gone to Wonderland heaven. 

#2 Rolf's German Restaurant
Experience. That's what this was — an experience. Do not go here for the food. We found it pretty bland and mediocre with a high price tag. Do not go here for the service — the one-eyed bouncer will threaten to call the cops to escort you out if you don't vacate your table in prompt-enough fashion. Yep, that really happened — and by "prompt-enough" I mean five minutes after paying the bill.



Do go here for the décor. It's like a Christmas bomb went off. If you want to eat at Rolf's, make a reservation. We made one a couple months in advance and it was slim pickings for available times. If you don't make a reservation, you can wait for over an hour in line, just to get a drink at the (very tiny) bar and immerse yourself in the ambiance. That's really all that's worth experiencing at Rolf's after all.

#3 Buttermilk Channel
Let's end on a high note! Luckily my friend and charming hostess, Rachel, lives near a Brooklyn hot spot: Buttermilk Channel. We got there before 10:30 for brunch (the place opens at 10) and were seated right away. Get there any later and you'll be waiting for a table.



The ambiance is cute and nice — not super swanky, but definitely not diner-y. The food was delicious. Rachel and I shared pecan pie French toast with a side of heavenly whipped cream, cheddar waffles, and hash browns. The French toast was caramelized and fluffy, the cheddar waffles hit the spot, and the hash browns were totally tasty (not bland). I would go back in a heartbeat! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas in NYC

5 Free holiday things to do in the City


Last weekend, some friends and I had what we call "Girlfriends Christmas Elf-Culture Wonder Glitter No-Boys No-Rules Weekend" in New York. Rachel lives there and was our charming hostess, showing us a great time and lots of free Christmas cheer. I love Christmasy things, and I love them even more without the NYC price tag. While there are (of course) other holiday activities in NYC, here's our list.

#1 Union Square Holiday Market
I loved this market and could have spent a good chunk of the day there if I still had presents to buy and/or a wad of cash burning a hole in my pocket. Not to say that everything is outrageously priced — just that there's a lot of cool, tempting stuff. 



We ogled artwork, gorgeous bohemian pillows, dead sea salt scrubs for super-soft hands, and novelty votive candles. We munched on hot apple cider and donuts. We also scoped out the Bryant Park Winter Village, but I'd pick the Union Square Holiday Market over Bryant for sure. 

#2 Macy's Santaland
This is geared toward kids, but I'm lucky to have friends who embrace their inner child. Expect to wait in line for a while, but the waiting isn't dull and the line does keep moving. Plus, once you arrive in Santaland, you'll find yourself in an enchanted North Pole forest complete with animatronic reindeer, caroling snowmen, a miniature Christmas village, and plenty of twinkle lights and whimsy. 



To speed things up, there's actually more than one Santa once you reach the end of the line, though it's very strategically coordinated so the little ones would never know.

#3 The Plaza Hotel
Ding dang dong! Turns out you can't just stroll into the Plaza Hotel like Kevin McCallister — you have to be a guest. However! We lowly tourists can visit the Plaza Food Hall where you can dine on upscale food court fare. The prices aren't bad for a luxury hotel, in my opinion — a gourmet deli sandwich will set you back about $10.



As you exit the hotel's food court, look for opportunities to explore. We passed a staircase just asking to be climbed and found ourselves in a hall being prepped for a (very expensive) wedding. We clearly didn't belong there, but nobody stopped us — so give it a whirl!

#4 5th Avenue Windows
Magical windows, music blasting into the streets, and swarms of people: Seeing the Christmas windows on 5th Avenue was an experience. The crowds are a bit tedious (as was the dude who had to have his picture taken in front of every single display), but it's worth it to witness the fabulosity and imagination behind it all.



While we didn't see all the windows, we got a good look at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks. Bergdorf was the clear winner.

#5 Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center
This is one of those bucket list New-York-City-at-Christmastime things. Boy that tree and the whole plaza is every bit as awesome as the movies and your imagination make it out to be! But what the movies and your imagination don't tell you is how the entire place is a teeming mass of people. I'm not sure how Kevin McCallister was lucky enough to get the entire tree to himself, really.



Perhaps to avoid the crowds, you'd have to visit the tree late at night (the website says visiting hours are until midnight). Then again, this is the proverbial "city that never sleeps," so maybe there really isn't an ideal time to go. Either way, I say brave the crowds and check it off your bucket list — it's worth it.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2 Christmas desserts

Crack pie & red velvet cake


I'm doing my best to have a no-stress holiday. Confession: These desserts aren't necessarily Mary Poppins spit-spot quick n' easy. Cakes and pies usually need some TLC and patience. But I'm sharing them anyway because, hey, sometimes baking is its own form of stress relief. So if you're so inclined, try one of these two desserts for your Christmas Day sweet tooth — both get my stamp of approval.

The name really says it all — except not really because there's not actual crack in this pie. But it's addicting, hence "crack." This delicious mix of sugar and butter and cookie and everything wonderful ever is truly the stuff of dreams. It's so worth the effort to bring this pie to life, and it's not even hard — just a little putzy.



This is the cake my great aunt used to make and the cake mom requests at Christmastime. Notice how my mom greatly influences what lands on our Christmas table (first muffins...)? Must be nice to have that kind of power. But hers is a power I'm happy to succumb to because this cake is super delish and festively red. And the frosting is amazing. And the chocolate letters are way easier than you'd think.



If all that sounds like too much work, do what we're doing this year instead: Ask your aunt to bring store-bought pies to Christmas dinner. No shame! There are 364 other days to slave over a scratch-made dessert. Plus my mom's birthday is January 3rd, so she can have her cake and eat it too — just a couple weeks later. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2 Christmas quiches

Tomato basil & Lorraine for the win!


Let's not add to the To Do list. Let's take stress out of the Christmas equation. That's what I've been telling myself lately – and yet getting Christmas breakfast on the table is non-negotiable. Thankfully, it's quiche to the rescue! Beautiful, glorious quiche. 

The past couple years, quiche has been my Christmas Day go-to, and this year is no different. I love that all you really have to do is dump a bunch of yummy stuff in a pie shell and bake away. Plus, you can make the mess the day before, bake it most of the way, then finish baking/reheat on Christmas morning. Here are two recipes to try.

#1 Spinach, tomato, basil quiche
This was the quiche du jour last Christmas – it's so yummy! I'm a little crazy about my just-so layering of the tomatoes, spinach, cheese, etc., but you could really just toss the chopped veggies in the pie shell willy nilly and I'm sure it would still taste scrumptious. It's pretty hard to screw up quiche — no stress!



#2 Quiche lorraine
It's bacon and eggs in a pie shell, the French way, and it's what's on the Lawler's Christmas breakfast menu this year. The hardest part about this recipe is cooking up the bacon and — puh-lease! — we all know that cooking bacon is always worth the effort. 



Want something even easier? Make mini quiches! Chop up veggies (tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, spinach) and season with salt, pepper, a little olive oil, and any herbs. Plop a spoonful of the veggies in the cups of a muffin pan. Top with shredded cheese. Whisk some eggs with salt, pepper, and milk until smooth, then pour into the veggie-filled muffin cups. Top with more salt, pepper, and cheese. Voila!

Monday, December 14, 2015

2 Christmas morning muffins

Simple sweets for a festive breakfast


With what feels like no time between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I'm doing my best to enjoy the holiday season instead of adding to my To Do list. So this week, with Christmas present in mind, I'll share some of my favorite recipes of Christmases past — both to give myself more time for living in the moment and to give you some simple favorites that are as yummy as they are time friendly.

Let's start with the most important meal of the day: Breakfast. At my house for holiday breakfasts, there are always muffins. We Lawlers love us some sweet stuff. Luckily, these two muffin recipes are so easy you could make them Christmas morning in no-time.


#1 Cinnamon sugar muffins 

These are the ones my mom asks for every Christmas. It never fails! Yep, I'm making them this year, too. I'll probably make them on Christmas Eve and warm them in the microwave Christmas morning.



#2 Pecan pie muffins
To me, any baked good that doesn't require a mixer gets the "easy" stamp of approval — it just feels like less work. These muffins fit the bill and the holiday flavor scene. Tis the season for pecan pie!



*Note: The pecan pie muffins might harden up if you make them the day before serving, but don't be alarmed — they still taste awesome! For soft muffins, bake them the day of. Time-saving trick: Measure all of the ingredients on Christmas Eve to cut back on the morning mess.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The new Streets of Old Milwaukee

An MPM favorite gets a tech-y face lift 


Last week, I went with some friends to the Milwaukee Public Museum for a sneak peek of the new Streets of Old Milwaukee. It's been closed for a while for renovations and will re-open today, December 11th. 



The main addition is very bright and shiny: a life-size streetcar with a scrolling street scene that's all kinds of fun. The other additions took a keen eye (and the help of other museum-goers) to spy.



Be sure to peek inside the Pfister Hotel. I would never have thought to look through the glass if the group ahead of us hadn't been marveling at what they saw: well-dressed ladies chatting in the lobby. I did discover a silhouette in an upper window — a shadow of a girl fussing with her hair, then peering out into the street.



All of the old favorites remain: granny in her rocking chair, the tiny movie theater, and of course the candy shop. Aside from the tech-y upgrades, not much has changed that I can tell. But I love the attention to detail and little secrets hiding here and there. 

Now go visit the new Streets of Old Milwaukee and tell me what secrets I've missed! For more info, visit mpm.edu.

Embelezar

Worldly treasures for you & your home


Earlier this week, I shared two great Milwaukee shops: Inspired and Hot Pop. If you still have holiday shopping to do (and if you don't, get outta here!), give these local stores a look-see. Hot Pop is all about pop culture novelties for the kid in each of us, and Inspired would be perfect for the homey Martha Stewart on your list. 



Today, we're going just around the corner from Inspired to Embelezar. The word "embelezar" is Portuguese for "to embellish and adorn" — fitting for this globally-inspired home décor and gift shop in the Third Ward. Embelezar's online description says it best: They're "catering to those bent for gracious living," with luxurious, handcrafted items to "lavish some attention on your living space." 



I love lavishing attention on my living space! Though most of the eye candy at Embelezar is out of my league price-wise, I always find something worth snatching up. I once bought Adam a hand-made felted card with Kraft Macaroni on the front that said "You're the mac to my cheese." For my friend Rachelle's birthday one year, I found an Eleanor Roosevelt pencil case or makeup bag. (Rachelle loves Eleanor.) This past summer, I splurged on some beautiful painted glass coasters and a totally indulgent lavender bar soap — my favorite. 



There's also a children's corner of the shop with books, plush animals, and room décor. Ladies, you'll love the many rich, textured scarves, purses, and patterned bath robes. Each piece at Embelezar is special and unique enough to take pride in purchasing. These aren't disposable gifts, but treasures that will stand the test of time. 

For more information & hours, visit Embelezar's Facebook page.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Hot Pop

A shop for the kid in all of us


This week, I'm sharing a few of my favorite local Milwaukee stores that are worth a stop during this gift-giving time of year. Today's shop is Hot Pop on Water Street in the Third Ward. It's just so freaking fun! I'll (mostly) let the pictures do the talking.



First of all, the atmosphere. Airy but packed with goodies. Things to spark your inner child, and/or amuse the real child on your Christmas list — everything from pop culture novelties to art. Let's start with the pop culture stuff: Check this Totoro explosion! 



There are shadow boxes along the wall filled with unique gifts, like exotic dancer glassware and adorable dog walker mugs, perfect for stuffing stockings. If your stocking is on the ginormous side, try the 2-foot tall brachiosaurus, a beach radio, or jumbo Edison lightbulb. 



While novelty items reign supreme at Hot Pop, I love that there's a dash of prettiness too. These hanging illustrations by Emily Winfield Martin are some of my favorites (I have one hanging at home). There are other equally charming art prints to thumb through as well, plus an ever-evolving gallery of local artists' work for sale. 



So when you're driving south on Water Street, just before you hit the bridge, look to your right and let this window draw you in. 



For more info on Hot Pop, visit hotpopshop.com.

Inspired

Rustic-chic décor & gifts in the Third Ward


This past weekend, Adam and I were all about the "shop local" scene in Milwaukee. There are so many unique spots to check out, especially during this gift-giving time of year. This week, I'll share a few of my favorites, starting with a shop that's new to the Third Ward: Inspired. We came upon it by accident — the warm glow of the store window caught my eye and I had to find out what lie beyond. 



I wasn't disappointed. The space itself is gorgeous with high ceilings and exposed brick. Eye-catching furnishings fill the place in thoughtful vignettes, each chockfull of a flurry of (now seasonal) décor — so much so it's like a game of I Spy. The overall style is rustic-chic — very homey, warm, welcoming, and always polished. I would put the overall style on the same wavelength as Pottery Barn, but with a gazillion bonus points for being locally owned.

I was so moved by the spirit of it all that I had to ask the kind folks behind the counter if they were just here for the season or in it for the long haul. I'm happy to say that Inspired is just seven weeks old and here to stay. How wonderful! If you ask me, the Third Ward has been taking it up a notch lately in the house and home department — first with West Elm, and now Inspired. 



I did a little more digging on Inspired's website and learned that it's owned by a husband and wife team. I love this quote from wife Terry: "For as long as I can recall I have been inspired by a desire to bring people together... To gather in a setting that reflects who we are, what we find beautiful, interesting, and moving. To dwell there in a sense of welcome and warmth where people feel cared for and loved. To create a surrounding that honors character over perfection, celebrating life in the moment." Consider me Inspired. 



Learn more about Inspired at inspiredmke.com

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Rumpus Room

MKE's most festive spot for dinner before a show


When my mom and I had tickets to Broadway in Milwaukee last season, we tried pretty much every restaurant within walking distance to the Marcus Center. While most of the eateries are nothing to write home about (sorry but it's true!), the Rumpus Room is always worth a repeat visit in my book. So when Adam and I scored tickets to The Mousetrap at the Milwaukee Rep, we stopped at the Rumpus Room for dinner.



In past visits to the Rumpus Room, I've had their beer cheese soup and a tasty steak sandwich. This time we were dining on a Friday, so I jumped at the chance to try the fish fry. While the plate looked a little sparse, it ended up being the perfect portion size. The fish was hot, crisp, and delicious. I just wish the potato pancakes (an up-charge of $2) were a little more substantial. But the coleslaw and sauces were delicious. So while it wasn't as good as the County Clare fish fry (will anything ever be!?), it was still yummy.



Adam ordered the wiener schnitzel and licked his plate clean. I tried a couple bites, and though it was good, I feel like I've had better at local German restaurants. That might sound like a silly statement — why wouldn't German food be better at a German restaurant? But the Rumpus Room is Bartalotta-owned, so it's natural to expect a lot of them; their restaurants are some of the best in the city.



For dessert, we shared a chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet. It was yummy and we cleaned the plate, but it's not something I'd go ga-ga over — not like the carrot cake at Buckley's. Overall, the Rumpus Room is, in my experience, still the place to dine before a show in MKE. The food is very good (sometimes great!), the service is attentive (especially when they know you have a show to catch), and the atmosphere is warm and cozy — ideal for this festive season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Soft-batch ginger molasses cookies

Perfectly spiced & melt-in-your-mouth chewy


I love unassuming desserts — I guess I'm selfish that way. People tend not to reach for the plain and simple sweets, which means more for me! These cookies are kinda that way. I turned to the interwebs in search of a chewy gingersnap for the holidays and found one with great reviews on All Recipes. I took other bakers' advice, subbing butter for shortening, and I switched up the spices for some flavor depth.



- - - - - - - 

SOFT-BATCH GINGER MOLASSES COOKIES

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
2 cups flour 
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter, softened but cool
1 cup white sugar
1 egg (or 1/3 cup applesauce — I used cinnamon applesauce)
1/4 cup molasses
cinnamon-sugar mix (1/4 cup sugar + 1 TBS cinnamon)

WHAT YOU'LL DO
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease with butter or cooking spray.

2. Whisk together flour, spices, baking soda, and salt until combined.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Slowly beat in sugar, egg (or applesauce), and molasses. Adding a bit at a time, slowly beat in flour mixture until just combined. 

4. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon in a small bowl and thoroughly mix. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into 1-inch balls, rolling each in the cinnamon-sugar mix. 

5. Place on the prepared cookie sheet and bake 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, then move to a cooling rack. *Note: If the dough is especially soft and difficult to roll, place the dough in the fridge for 10 minutes before rolling/baking.

- - - - - - - 

I baked these cookies for 10 minutes and they turned out super soft. My dad said they were like eating cookie dough — so if that's your weakness, then these are the cookies for you! I loved the flavor and chewiness, but even so, I might try baking them a couple minutes longer next time to see if they'll crisp up on the outside and stay soft inside. With such yummy flavor, you can't go wrong either way.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

November 2015

A few of my favorite things


Dressing as a giant smile for the Oconomowoc Halloween parade.


Cooking up lemon-rosemary chicken.


Obsessing over Hamilton


Eating my vegetables in an autumn glow salad.


Sharing some of my favorite holiday cards.


Mixing up an easy-peasy curried pumpkin soup.


Trying to guess whodunit at The Mousetrap at the Milwaukee Rep.


Baking pumpkin cupcakes for a pre-Thanksgiving treat.